Researchers Print Scaffolds for New Bones...With a Friggin' Inkjet

3D printer printing bone-scaffold material, Credit: Washington State University
3D printer printing bone-scaffold material. [Photo: Washington State University]
Need a new femur? How about a new cranium? Thanks to a new 3D-printing technology, getting yourself a new bone may not be too far off.

Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) modified an inkjet printer (no joke) to 3D-print scaffolds for bones. The scaffolds can eventually be used in the human body where bone cells will begin to grow on the scaffold; over time, the scaffold will be dissolved and absorbed by the body and completely replaced by a real, all-natural bone.

The material printed by the inkjet printer looks and feels like an actual human bone, and according to WSU, it even acts like bone. The material in question was developed over four years through an interdisciplinary study in the sciences; it's mainly composed of calcium phosphate, and contains other materials like silicon and zinc that provide additional strength.

The printer can print pretty much anything that you can draw on the computer. This flexible procedure allows doctors to do more than just replace bones--the printer could be used in orthopedics, in orthodontics, and to fix bone fixation (e.g. spinal fixation), to name a few purposes. Susmita Bose, professor of WSU School of Mechanical and Material Engineering, hopes that doctors will be able to start utilizing this technology in the next ten to twenty years.

The research itself sure looks promising. WSU says the scaffold was able to support a network of new bone cells after only a week in a medium with immature human bone cells.

[Washington State University via Engadget]

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